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The collected opinions of an august and aristocratic personage who, despite her body having succumbed to the ravages of time, yet retains the keen intellect, mordant wit and utter want of tact for which she was so universally lauded in her younger days. Being of a generation unequal to the mysterious demands of the computing device, Lady Bracknell relies on the good offices of her Editor for assistance with the technological aspects of her journal.

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Location: Bracknell Towers

Thursday, March 02, 2006

It's all relative...

Next Wednesday, Lady Bracknell will be travelling to one of the local tertiary education institutions in order to deliver what she believes is called "a workshop" on disability and employment. To which end she has been dusting off her collection of illustrative magic-lantern slides and updating them to reflect the legislative changes which have taken place since they were last used.

One of the issues which has to be covered first in any such presentation is, of course, the legal definition of being disabled. Many students who have impairments such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or Asperger's syndrome have fallen into the trap so deftly constructed for them by the media of equating disability only with wheelchairs (and possibly guide dogs). They do not consider themselves to be disabled, which means they are unlikely to avail themselves of the protection which the Disability Discrimination Act affords them once they have graduated and found gainful employment. (Naturally, this state of affairs is somewhat akin to a red rag to a bull to Lady Bracknell, with the result that she makes it her business to overcome any such misconceptions.)

If one is explaining the DDA definition of disability to a rapt audience, one will occasionally have cause to stray into those conditions which are specifically and explicitly excluded from that definition.

Lady Bracknell has been given to understand by a lawyer, whose word she has no reason to doubt, that "a tendency to set fires" was specifically excluded from the DDA definition of disability not because it wasn't considered to be a serious impairment, but rather because the legislators felt they really couldn't impose a duty on employers to take on pyromaniacal persons.

One can imagine the scenario:

Employer: "Right! That's it! You have burned down the factory my father spent fifty years building up from scratch, and you're fired!"

Employee: "Have you forgotten I'm disabled? Setting fire to a large building every six months or so is a reasonable adjustment for me. I'll see you at the Employment Tribunal!"

But Lady Bracknell digresses. She remembers an occasion when she and a certain Mr W had been invited to speak at a conference. Those present were divided into small groups after the initial presentations so that they could discuss the issues in more depth. The worthy woman leading the group which Lady Bracknell had the good fortune to be observing read the list of excluded conditions to her small flock. When she reached "seasonal allergies", one young man was appalled.

"But there's nothing more disabling than hay fever!", he cried.

Now, Lady Bracknell was a martyr to hay fever in her youth. She never sat an important examination without being drugged to the eyeballs on anti-histamines. Exam questions swam before her streaming eyes. The pockets of her school uniform overflowed with sodden handkerchieves. Her nasal passages were so congested that sleep was but a distant memory. Indeed, the sneezing was so bad one year that she damaged her throat, and has spoken in a lower register ever since.

Nevertheless, she could still walk, see and hear. She could communicate easily with other persons. She experienced no muscle tremors or spasms, and no physical pain. Her balance, co-ordination and continence were unaffected. Her nervous system remained intact. She retained control over all her major bodily functions. She experienced no dramatic mood swings beyond those associated with broken sleep.

The innocent belief (expressed, of course, by a non-disabled young man who gave every indication of being at the peak of physical fitness) that nothing could be more disabling than hay fever makes Lady Bracknell feel like hitting her head repeatedly against a brick wall.

On the other hand, she is tempted to some degree to use it as an ironic mantra when things are particularly bad.

Perhaps, after an especially difficult day, when he has been tucked up in bed by one of his team of personal assistants, Professor Steven Hawking smiles to himself, and says, "Oh, well. Mustn't grumble. It could be worse. I could have hay fever".


Blogger The Goldfish said...

As well as the oft remarked alleged compliment that I am not thought of as disabled, I have come across the concept that, "Oh well we're all a little bit disabled, aren't we? Like John needs glasses for reading, and Jane has trouble getting trousers long enough and I was never very good at sport at school."

However, I have never been entirely happy with a list of medical conditions to define who is and is not disabled.

My answer to the young gentleman with hay-fever would be to question how an employer or service provider could make reasonable adjustment to accomodate his condition? Short of not situating his desk amidst a field of rape, of course.

8:02 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Ah, but of course hay fever is excluded precisely because it is seasonal and therefore fails to meet the "long-term" criterion in the DDA definition of disability.

A definition which, for all its failings (and they are legion), at least avoids listing those conditions which do count. Even the lengthy Codes of Practice refuse to do that.

Apart from the tendency to set fires, the only other two statutory exceptions to the definition are disfigurements resulting from tattoos or piercings, and dependency on addictive substances when such dependencies have not been created as the result of medicating existing impairments.

Lady Bracknell does take the Goldfish's point. But she feels that none of these exceptions is, in fact, unjustified.

However, we can all now live in hope that the existing definition will be radically overhauled as a result of the recent DRC consultation.

8:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whilst conveying her Ladyship’s Rolls Canardly on a particularly arduous journey yesterday, I decided to mitigate the boredom by tuning the wireless to the home service (or “Radio 4 “ as I believe it is now known).
It was during this time that I had the misfortune to listen to a medical programme called “Check Up”, on which the topic of the week was headache. A learned professor and the host were discussing different types of headache, possible causes and relief. Leaving aside the appalling and frequent use of words such as “suffering” (which this correspondent believes to be a state of mind and not a direct effect of any medical condition) and “disabling” (which should never be used as an adjective in conjunction with a medical noun), I was most shocked to hear the professor quoting, and then interpreting, a statement by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Apparently, WHO has listed migraine headache at the very top of its list of “Disabling Conditions”. This fact emerged during a phone-in discussion with a listener who “suffered” frequent “disabling” migraine attacks. The professor went on to say that this high rating was justified as, during an attack, the “sufferer” is so “disabled” that they “might as well be quadriplegic”. The listener, agreeing with this, then said that attacks lasted up to four hours and occurred every six weeks or so.
Whilst not wishing to deny the very real impact and effect of migraine, I wondered how many quadriplegic listeners might be wishing that their condition affected them for less than 3 hours a month.

8:21 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lady Bracknell may be assured, on the word of a qualified nurse, that there is no worse patient than a previously fit, healthy, young male.

They are so poleaxed by their first ever experience of physical discomfort (a broken bone sustained during the sport of rugby, or a recalcitrant wisdom tooth, for example) that they can peform all the death scenes from King Lear merely when requested to get out of bed.

They are also the ones, in any group of students, who will faint at the sight of blood or the smell of pus, while all around them the "little dolly-birds" continue unperturbed with their duties.

9:52 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would be happy to exchange my life-shortening progressive neurological condition & accompanying brain damage & hemiplegia (with ataxia thrown in at no extra cost) for his hayfever. Although on reflection I think my damaged brain probably functions rather better than his.

9:37 pm  
Blogger The Goldfish said...

I was talking to Andy about this today and on the subject of those with a tendancy to start fires he said, "Oh that's clever; that way they can sack smokers."


1:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Apart from our occasional excursions in the Rolls Canardly, I find your perforations to be the highlight of my otherwise tedious existence. I hope and trust that you will soon return to a sufficiently robust state of health that you might begin to percolate once more.

Your obedient servant


8:17 am  

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